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Saturday, March 24, 2012

Hiking Payson's Houston Mesa

View of the Mogollon Rim

When I first hiked this trail in the early 1990s it was a very confusing trek.  I got through using map, compass and a few lucky guesses to navigate the maze of roads and cross paths that bisect the main route.  Since then, the trail has been incorporated into the Payson Area Trails System (PATS), given a facelift and marked with directional signage.  So, when I hiked it again this past week, finding my way was a breeze.  Featuring a close-to-town trailhead accessible by paved roads (my tires thanked me), this
Pines and junipers on Houston Mesa
hike near the geographic center of Arizona offers occasional shade, big mountain vistas and active wildlife.  Located in high altitude desert terrain, vegetation is an interesting hybrid of coniferous woodland and desert scrub. Ponderosa pines, junipers and Gambel oaks tower over manzanita, barberry, paddle cactuses and myriad wildflowers.   The trail alternates between damp forests and arid, sunny mesas on its way to the Houston Loop junction. Here, you can add the loop (3.6 miles, 4,860' -4,950') or return the way you came.
LENGTH:  9.6 miles roundtrip (with loop option)
3.0 miles one way from Houston trailhead
4.6  miles one way from Horse Camp 
RATING: moderate
ELEVATION: 5,192' – 4,860'
DOGS: leashed dogs allowed
DISTANCE FROM PHOENIX:  96 miles one way

From Phoenix, take AZ87 north to the AZ260/87 junction in the town of Payson.  From here, travel 1.8 miles north on AZ87  to Houston Mesa Road (FR 199)  on the right. The Horse Camp lot (trailers) is 0.3 miles from the turnoff and the Houston (hiker) trailhead is 1.3 miles up FR 199 on the right.
INFO: Payson Area Trail System (PATS)

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